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Negotiating age: Direct speech and the…

Negotiating age: Direct speech and the sociolinguistic production of…

by Elise Berman

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A very careful, sophisticated reading of linguistic interactions between some children in the Marshall Islands, where grownups are socialized to"hide and lie" (in the local phrase) to avoid causing offence or embarrassing others, or having to say no directly, etc. Then, kids are concieved to be "open," "honest," or whatever, and Berman looks in detail at how this does not simply mean they have not yet been socialized as adults, but that they are first socialized as children, whose interactions take on fascinatingly different characteristics as a result. Younger kids are more able to make demands than older ones as a result of this socialization, but older kids (above them in the age hierarchy) are also freer to ignore those demands; but then older kids must learn to do this without seeming greedy or directly rude themselves, learning to negotiate that more fundamental taboo. Often they look for ways to assert their rights by, for example, extending a certain amount of age-power and responsibility to the younger kids too ("don't be a selfish baby, give me my meat!" which is really the other kid's meat or nobody's or everybody's meat). But this can so easily backfire, especially as they get older, making them look babyish themselves for making demands. Often the younger kids accrue power without having to give up their meat by, for example, displays of conspicuous consumption, sort of daring older kids to challenge them--but this can so easily backfire too if the younger kid seems to be engaging in the strategy consciously. The phrase "I hate you" seems to serve as a kind of call in poker, forcing the whole submerged struggle to the overt level, forcing everyone to step up and make a decision about what they're really gonna do here. There is more like this, and it is all very interesting, insightful, and well written. This is the kind of anthropology article that I think any interested layperson could enjoy and come away impressed by. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology. ( )
2 vote MeditationesMartini | Aug 2, 2015 |
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